Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Rise of the Niche Market and Community AKA Look at Me. I can Sound Smart and Talk about Anime at the Same Time.

Originally I was going to explain to all you folks in internet land what I mean when I say anime boom. It was going to be a mini-history lesson, but the more I thought about it the more it became apparent that a lot of the same things happened with other areas of intrest. I can get my academic on , talking about a sociological trend, and talk about anime on the internet. Cool beans.

First lets define some terms as I'm using them

Niche Market
Almost any hobby is going to require the people who take part in it to make purchases. If you're into music you buy CD's. There are certain hobbies that are mainstream and some not so mainstream. Almost everybody listens to music but you narrow the field when you start talking about people who play music.

The people who play music are going to be the ones who buy instruments and equipment. They want it, and are willing to pay for it, but because there are so few of them in a populace compared to every one else they are smaller market. Because of this smaller market not as many businesses are willing to get into the instrument selling business as the CD, okay I'm showing my age, mp3 selling business.

As a result especially back in the day, if you wanted to buy instruments, you were limited in what you could buy, and where you could buy it. There might be an awesome new drum pedal out there but that doesn't mean your local shop carries it. Or even that the store owner knows about it.

The niche market is a market that caters not to everyone but a small segment of the population. As a result it has a few economic peccadilloes. A lot of how the modern business runs is based on the economy of scale. It's cheaper to make and sell a lot of something than a smaller amount of it. If you can't sell tens of thousands of units you're hosed.

Niche Community
People like talking about what they're interested in, which is fine when you're talking about things that are common to a lot of people, like sports but there are a lot of things that aren't. I loved Magic the Gathering in High school, but I was the only kid who I knew of who played. Whenever I meet someone else who plays it instantly makes me want to start talking about the game, because I don't have the chance to that often. Not only that but it's an opportunity to not just talk but gain new information, find out about new strategies and cards I may not have considered. A niche community is a community driven by a common interest not held by the majority of those in geographic proximity.

The Anime Market as a case study
Back in the late 80's early 90's, slightly before my time here, it was rough getting your hands on anime. Most stores didn't carry it and in a local area so few people knew about it that even getting the name of that tittle you wanted was tough. I've heard stories comparing it to trying to get the new type of crack. You had to go to a dude ask him to give you his connect. Then, pay another dude who probably made a bootleg copy an amount of money that seems ridiculously exorbitant for just a few episodes.

The companies who are now household names in anime, Funimation, Pioneer etc, were just getting started or didn't exist yet. Nobody really knew how to make money getting anime across the waters. And because of that they didn't. Sure you had people who would pay for it, but you don't know how many, and you don't know where they are.

In the case of the market at least one huge thing changed. Cable. In the early days of cable it was devoted to the niche content market. Channels would devote themselves to a single area of expertise and market themselves based on that area of expertise. Here are the ones that have survived time. The Food channel, the Weather channel, the Discovery channel, the Travel channel, ESPN. If you were interested in these things they would provide you with the content and and information you needed to pursue those interests. These are the ones that are now more mainstream, Syfy, Cartoon Network, G4, Turner Classic Movies, Disney Channel.

If you had an interest in media content these would provide you with that specific type of media content. If you had an interest in some sort of hobby they would provide you with the information you needed to pursue it. They were in effect video trade magazines that had national distribution.

Cartoon Network did this for anime. Cartoon Network started as a way to capitalize on the back catalog of Hanna Barbara Cartoons, but started coming into its own when it started airing anime in it's Toonami block and original programming. It exposed anime to a new audience that quickly became interested in it, and made it easier for it's previous audience to experience it. (There was a bust that I will talk about in a later post, heck I want to talk about the consequences of this new market, but that will be in another post.)

The Anime Community
Previously if you were in a niche community you were bound by geography. You may have liked something but you didn't know everyone else liked it because you didn't have people to talk to about it. Que epic voice. Then came the internet. All of a sudden, if you liked Dragon Ball Z you could talk to or read from thousands of other people who liked Dragon Ball Z, and you could find out about shows that were like Dragon Ball Z that maybe you hadn't seen. It also gave who felt like they were outcasts other people who had similar interests to them. Well if you're an outcast because you were the only person you knew who liked something and you just found 100 people who like the same damn thing, then heeeeyyyyyy. Maybe you're not an outcast after all.

And if you were a corporate executive, who wanted to license it you knew there was a market for Dragon Ball Z.

The end result of both is that you had a way to connect people who wanted a product with people had a product. Cool Beans. A market just opened.

Next time. The epic bust of the anime market.

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